Our infamous wandering albatross chick, Greta, is now six months old! Since she hatched all the way back in March, so much has changed, not just for her, but in the environment around her and beyond! When Greta started making her way out of her egg in late March, #AlbatrossStories was already a few months old. We’ve followed the story since Amelia (Greta’s mum) laid her 10th egg with Greta’s dad, Atlas. Although the egg was laid at the beginning of January, we had to wait patiently while Amelia and Atlas incubated their precious egg. It took 78 long days. Two months of sitting and waiting. But it was worth it, and both parents have dedicated the past nine months to raising their little (or now not so little) chick, Greta.
With an egg bigger than your fist, it’s perhaps no surprise that wandering albatross hold the title of the bird with the world’s largest wingspan. However, when Greta hatched, and we got our first glimpse of her- soggy and bleary eyed, a 3.5-meter wingspan was almost unimaginable. She was barely larger than her parents feet and had to be carefully guarded in turn by Amelia and Atlas for the first month as she was too small to face the harsh weather of the sub-Antarctic, and threats from predators. The technical term for this time in an albatrosses life is “brood-guard”. By late April Amelia gradually introduced Greta to being alone on the nest by resting nearby, instead of on the nest itself (perhaps Amelia also wasn’t ready to let go!). This was all preparation for a winter of sub-zero temperatures, high winds, and long nights, during the post guard stage.
Greta’s development is visible from one week to the next, and hopefully you’ve been following along with her weekly videos. As she becomes less fluffy her wings have been growing and she’s been spending more time strengthening them by flapping. Testing them in the harsh winds that define the weather of the southern oceans, she’s still a couple of months away from taking after her namesake (Greta Thunberg) and wandering the oceans herself. It’s not been all plane sailing for Greta on Bird Island, even if sitting and waiting for food to be delivered to your nest might sound appealing to us. She’s had to deal with a sub-Antarctic winter, snowy sheathbills scavenging around her nest, and watching nervously as giant petrels, a prominent predator, hung around her nest. Unbeknown to Greta, in the world beyond her island there has been key progress in safeguarding the future for seabirds. The Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) announced a commitment to extend protection of their waters (an area now covering 1.2 million km²!). Further North, the Chilean Government recently announced new legislation to protect seabirds in their fishing grounds, a massive step forward! And to the East, Port Inspectors in Mauritius have been trained to monitor compliance with seabird mitigation measures on Asian-flagged vessels. These advances in seabird protection are giving Greta, and thousands of other seabirds, a better chance at having chicks of their own.
That is also exactly what Amelia (36yo) and Atlas (40yo), Greta’s parents, have been doing for the past nine months. Committing an entire year to search for enough food to feed themselves and their rapidly growing chick. This requires a lot of dedication, patience and loyalty between a pair. Raising nine other chicks together and devoting 25 years to one another is testament to the bond between them. Taking it in turns to incubate and protect Greta for two and a half months while she was still in the egg. When she was ready to hatch and started to pip, Amelia and Atlas shifted up a gear and their foraging patterns changed, making shorter and more frequent trips, supplying regular meals and travelling hundreds of kilometres daily (brood-guard stage). Focussing their efforts on closer waters stretching between Bird Island and Cape Horn. Now Greta is much older, almost reaching her peak weight (which will be more than her parents!), foraging trips are less frequent, but much further. Driven by changing resource availability or increased competition, and the need to consistently return with sufficient food, trips in the post-guard period extend further north, stretching up the Argentinean coastline and returning down to the Southern Ocean, clocking up thousands of kilometres.
Representative foraging trips recorded by GPS loggers fitted to wandering albatrosses from Bird Island, each at different breeding stages- Data courtesy of Prof Richard Phillips, British Antarctic Survey.
In a couple of months, Greta will decide it is time for her to leave Bird Island (for now), spending her first 4 to 6 years at sea. She was recently fitted with a ring with her own unique number meaning we will be able to monitor Greta for years to come! The growing support for the Albatross Task Force (@AlbyTaskForce) and #AlbatrossStories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, shining light on the lengths two albatross will go to raise their one and only chick for two years, is leading to new and exciting developments in their global protection. Celebrating their success as Greta reaches her half year birthday, representing millions of other albatrosses hopefully able to return to their chick waiting at the nest with less risk of by-catch due to improved mitigation on board fishing vessels. Although this issue is not solved, the successes that have occurred are testament to the global support and passion for albatross, Greta included of course. Happy half-birthday Greta, no pressure…
Greta at 6 months old- starting to lose her fluffy down
Thank you to our funders Darwin Initiative, the South Georgia Heritage Trust, and the Friends of South Georgia Island for supporting #AlbatrossStories.
Photos: Rosie Hall
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A joyful hopeful read of this amazing Bird..fly safely Greta!
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